It is nothing short of unbelievable just how much the Christian Church has got wrong when it comes to evangelism and mission. As if we haven’t seen enough that needs to be corrected already there is nevertheless more to come. And it’s not minor stuff either, because we have now got to address the fact that the very content of the gospel message that normatively goes out is, yes you’ve guessed it, significantly unbiblical! Please underline this next point three times in red ink: Nowhere in the New Testament is there the slightest indication that the early church preached to unbelievers that God loved them.
The biblical gospel is that men and women are under God’s judgement as sinners, and are commanded by Him to repent, believe in Jesus and be baptised. In so doing they are forgiven their sins and brought into eternal life. It is not that God loves them! Indeed, in the New Testament it was only when someone had been saved that they were then schooled in an understanding of the Lord’s great love for them. Nowhere was God’s love included in the content of the evangelism of the apostles and New Testament believers. The closest thing we have in scripture to what we might think of as a manual of evangelism, a how-to-do-evangelism-type piece of literature, so to speak, is the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, in which the story of the evangelistic mission of the apostles, and then of their converts, is graphically presented. Understand, however, and this is so important to grasp, that the word ‘love’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the whole book.
If the evangelistic message for unbelievers is, even partially, that God loves them, then the apostles of Jesus, plus the entire early church, were apparently completely unaware of it. Repentance toward God, faith in Jesus and baptism is what they preached, pure and simple. Notice too that when it came to methodology there was nothing that even closely resembled what we would today think of as an ‘evangelistic rally.’ There was preaching to crowds, certainly, but organised evangelistic events, and so-called evangelistic crusades, nowhere featured in scripture as part of their strategy. And if someone responds by saying that such evangelistic crusades are just the best way to do evangelism today, and are just our equivalent of what the early church did then, then answer me this: why do such rallies and crusades revolve around stirring music, whether of choirs or rock bands, and why dies it all lead up to the total biblical travesty of the practice of the altar call, or ‘appeal’ as some call it. The closest thing to anything like that in scripture was that on the day of pentecost Peter was actually interrupted by folk who were so convicted of sin that they didn’t even want him to finish preaching. They just wanted to get baptised, there and then, and be saved from their sins.
The choirs and the rock bands and the music, along with the carefully staged altar calls, are really about one thing and one thing only, the manipulation of people’s emotions. Hence all the unbiblical evangelistic preaching about God’s love for sinners. In stark contrast, New Testament evangelism never aimed at the emotions, but rather the will and conscience. Biblical evangelism has as its aim causing sinners to feel bad about themselves, not good! People may get genuinely emotional as a result of hearing the truth gospel, and that isn’t a problem as long as it is the genuine gospel being proclaimed, but that isn’t what it is trying to achieve.
One of the things that really does stand out in the pages of the New Testament, and which is so totally different to the whole ‘seeker-sensitive’ nonsense of todays so-called evangelicalism, is that both Jesus and the early church made it difficult to become a believer, not easy! Much of the evangelism we see today is designed to get people saved no matter what, but the very opposite is the case in scripture. Jesus would warn people who expressed a desire to follow Him that it might mean they would end up homeless like Him. The stories He told illustrating the importance of counting the cost of following Him are salutary here. Whether it be assessing whether or not one can afford to build a tower, or deciding whether one has the necessary resources to win a war against an enemy invader, the cost has to be first be thoroughly taken into account. Far from assuring potential converts that following Him would be all blessing (by which most Christians mean mean the pleasant things in life which make one smile) Jesus told them up-front that it would mean that they would be hated and persecuted, often even by one’s own family, and that potential converts would need to hate their lives so as to come to know His instead. I gotta tell you, not very much of this features in most so-called evangelism going on today.
One further example of this! We have already seen that, biblically speaking, church gatherings are for believers and not unbelievers, but Paul does instruct how to proceed should, for whatever reason, unbelievers ever be present. And what he says in 1 Corinthians is that the result of them being present should be that the secrets of their heart are revealed, thus causing them to be convicted of sin, repent and fall on their faces before God. It is unnerving but clear, whichever part of scripture we turn to regarding unbelievers and evangelism, it is always the command to repentance being put to them and not any kind of proclamation of God’s love for them.
Crumbs, that’s got to be it now…surely! Surely there can’t be anything else biblically wrong with how Christians evangelise, can there? Well yes, there’s one more thing we must yet cover…and it’s absolutely major! I’ll see you bright and early in the morning then!